When I met my future husband, I was 34 years old, and I already knew that at some point I wanted to have another child. Fast-forward a few years into our relationship and in a blink of an eye I was already 38, with my 40s looming just around the corner!
Panic set in, the biological clock ticked louder than Big Ben, and I felt that I had to put my foot down and do this pregnancy thing now or lose the opportunity forever.
This is a dilemma many modern women face today. Women delaying pregnancy because they haven’t found the right partner, they chose to focus on their career, or they simply didn’t feel it had been the right time. In this generation, our lifestyle has also changed, we feel younger than we physically are, and we live by mottoes such as “30’s is the new 20’s,” only our fertility clock didn’t get the memo.
When I finally got pregnant, all the pregnancy books I started reading had special chapters on “pregnancy over 35.” I had always been healthy, but the fact that I deserved my own chapter in a book made me feel a little squeamish. If age is just a number, why is 35 the “magic number?” Is there an invisible dimension women cross when they celebrate their 35th birthday? Do certain chemicals in your body get an alert message saying “warning, warning” a woman just turned 35, start dispatching the “bad eggs?”
PREGNANCY RISKS FACTS AND FIGURES
One in 5 women in the United States has her first child after age 35, which puts them at in increased rates of infertility, pregnancy risks of genetic abnormalities, placental problems, stillbirth and increased incidence of medical conditions like high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, and thyroid disease, according to the March of Dimes.
Women over 35 are about twice as likely to develop gestational diabetes and placenta previa as younger women.
During my research, what I discovered was that as women, we are born with a certain number of eggs that also age along with us. This means that with time, they too have had more exposure to infections, drugs, X-rays and other environmental contaminants.
The risk of having a baby with Down Syndrome after age 35 is 1 in 365, compared to only 1 in 1,000 if you are 30 or 1 in 1,300 if you are 25 or younger, according to the American Pregnancy Association. Miscarriage is also more prevalent as you age, says the APA. Women under the age of 35 have about a 15% chance of miscarriage, increasing to a 20-35% chance when you are 35-45 years old and 50% if you are over 45.
Although this all sounds scary, Dr. Gonzalo Garreton, a surgeon specialized in Obstetrics & Gynecology at Kaiser Permanente South Bay Medical Center in Harbor City, California, says there is nothing “magic” about age 35. “In and of itself age does not make a pregnancy high risk, the associated findings to a particular pregnancy make it high risk or normal risk,” he says. In other words, the above issues are more prevalent after age 35 but every woman is different and every pregnancy is different.
FIRST TRIMESTER SCREENINGS
Something that put me a little more at ease during my pregnancy was the first-trimester screening I had at 12 weeks. It is a test that screens for chromosomal abnormalities and combines various factors such as your age, the results of your nuchal translucency screening (an ultrasound that checks for the nuchal folds in your baby) and blood samples to learn if your baby is in fact at an increased risk for chromosomal problems including Down Syndrome, Trisomy-21, also known as Edward’s Syndrome, and Trisomy-18.
My first-trimester screening results were good, showing a low risk for abnormalities. With this news my husband and I decided not to have an invasive Amniocenteses test, which more accurately tests for Down Syndrome and other chromosomal abnormities. However, it is also more invasive since samples of the amniotic fluid are extracted from the amniotic sac with a needle, and it does carry a risk of miscarriage.
The good news is that most women over 35 do have healthy pregnancies and babies, so the odds are still in our favor. Dr. Garreton says there are also things you can do now prior to conception, to have a healthier pregnancy such as having a good diet, exercise, no smoking, and no drugs.
OVER 35 AND WANTING TO GET PREGNANT?
If you are over 35 and thinking of getting pregnant, Garreton suggests you get a general health screening, and if all is normal (weight, blood pressure, Pap, STD screening, etc.) and you have not had previous medical issues, such as sexually transmitted diseases, and your periods are regular, no special testing is needed or useful. Testing for “infertility” starts after one year of unprotected intercourse—at any age.
DOING THE THIRD TRIMESTER DANCE
I currently just did the “third trimester dance,” as I just completed 27 weeks of pregnancy, with no complications. I’m also already thinking of having another baby after this one, although there is a lot to consider because I will be even older and the risks will be even higher. But there are more and more new tests out there that help put expectant mothers at ease, and living a healthy lifestyle now, can make my future baby’s chances of a healthy beginning even better. Our body can do amazing things; we just have to be willing to take good care of it.